We didn’t have many expectations of Latvia as a food destination before our recent trip there, but it seems to us that Riga, in particular, is experiencing a food revolution of sorts, with a newfound interest in creating high quality concepts and changing the city’s culinary reputation. A lot of exciting new spots have opened in the last few years, with the admirable mission of creating something unlike the city has ever seen. There’s still a long way to go until Riga is considered a food capital of Europe, but we think they are definitely headed in the right direction and this is a destination to watch. Sometimes, all it takes is a few motivated people to change the culinary landscape of a city!
Perhaps the most passionate in this mission is chef Max Cekot, who is originally from Riga, but traveled after culinary school and cooked in New York, in London at Gordon Ramsay, and around Europe. When he came back to Latvia, Max and his wife Natalia sold everything they owned in order to invest in creating their dream restaurant, Max Cekot Kitchen – and what a space they have created. They’ve converted an old wood factory on the outskirts of town into a breathtaking restaurant space, where they’ve designed every detail by hand – from the tables, to the light fixtures, to the ceramics on the table. (They’ve created everything themselves!) It’s one of the most stunning and unique restaurant spaces we’ve seen, preserving parts of the historic building while bringing in lots of modern, personal touches.
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MAX CEKOT KITCHEN Address & Contact Information Jelgavas iela 42, Zemgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga, Latvia Website Instagram Facebook
On the ground floor, you’re welcomed by hundred year-old spiral staircases from the old factory. Climbing the stairs is like Alice in Wonderland entering the looking glass – you go step by step, higher and higher, round and round, until you poke your head above the floor and surface inside the second floor dining room. This entrance really sets the mood for the experience. The interior design is quite Nordic in style, with high ceilings and cathedral-like windows that flood the room with natural light. The dining tables are made with leftover wood from the old factory, and the lights are made from recycled metal also from the factory. The room has a wonderfully spacious feel, and the open kitchen is the center of the action. They also have a chef’s counter, where diners can sit facing the kitchen and interact more with the chefs. Another striking feature is the indoor greenhouse, where they grow herbs and edible flowers during the winter.
To our knowledge, Max Cekot Kitchen is the only high-level restaurant in Latvia with a mission to use primarily local produce. They call their concept “garden-to-table,” as 80% of their ingredients are grown themselves in the garden right outside the restaurant. Max takes the use of edible flowers to the next level, not just using them as decoration or flavor enhancers, but often even as replacements of other ingredients like salt, pepper, sugar, or lemon. He doesn’t use any citrus in the restaurant (since it doesn’t grow in Latvia), and instead uses citrusy herbs or flowers to add acidity to the food and drinks. He took us on a garden tour, and we couldn’t believe the explosion of flavors in some of the plants he uses. He also grows other ingredients for the menu such as berries, currants, tomatoes, rhubarb, beets, courgettes, cucumbers, and kale.
Another aspect that really impressed us was how professional the staff was, both in the kitchen and in the front of house. Most of the team had zero experience before working for Max, and he trained them all to perform a flawless service. We couldn’t believe they didn’t have a background in fine dining. The wine style at Max Cekot is very classical, but they do have a handful of natural wines on their list. They also have a house-made juice pairing using ingredients from their garden.
We were extremely impressed with our meal here, and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Riga. It’s certainly at the top of the culinary scene in Latvia. Max Cekot has a very light and delicate cooking style, which is elevated by his abundant use of aromatic herbs and flowers. It’s nuanced and delicious, and we are excited to watch the development of this restaurant as well as the Latvian food scene in general.
Have you ever been to Max Cekot Kitchen? Tell us about your experience in a comment below.